'Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.'
Christmas won't be the same this year for Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, as their father is away fighting in the Civil War, and the family has fallen on hard times. But though they may be poor, life for the four March sisters is rich with colour, as they play games, put on wild theatricals, make new friends, argue, grapple with their vices, learn from their mistakes, nurse each other through sickness and disappointments, and get into all sorts of trouble.
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LOUISA MAY ALCOTT was born on November 29, 1832 in Pennsylvania, and she grew up with plenty of books to read but seldom enough to eat. Louisa went to work when she was very young as a paid companion and teacher, but she loved writing most of all, and like Jo March she started selling sensational stories in order to help provide financial support for her family. She worked as a nurse during the American Civil War but the experience made her extremely ill. Little Women was published in 1868 and was based on her life growing up with her three sisters. She followed it with three sequels, Good Wives (1869), Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886) and she also wrote other books for both children and adults. Louisa was also a campaigner for women's rights and the abolition of the slave trade. She died on March 6, 1888.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,"grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!"sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have lots of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got father and mother, and each other, anyhow,"said Beth, contentedly, from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly?
"We haven't got father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never,"but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, "You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas, was because it's going to be a hard winter for every one; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't;"and Megshook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any good. We've each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped by our giving that. I agree not to expect anything from mother or you, but I do want to buy Undine and Sintram for myself; I've wanted it so long,'said Jo, who was a bookworm.
"I planned to spend mine in new music,"said Beth, with a little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth-brush and kettle-holder.
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils; I really need them," said Amy, decidedly.
"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't wish us to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and have a little fun; I'm sure we grub hard enough to earn it,"cried Jo, examining the heels of her
boots in a gentlemanly manner.
"I know I do, teaching those dreadful children nearly all day, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the complaining tone again.
"You don't have half such a hard time as I do," said Jo. "How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy old lady, who keeps you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries you till you''e ready to fly out of the window or box her ears?"
"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me cross; and my hands get so stiff, I can't practise good a bit." And Beth looked at her rough hands with a sigh that any one could hear that time.
"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy; "for you don't have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your nose isn't nice."
"If you mean libel I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as if pa was a pickle-bottle," advised Jo, laughing.
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